If you haven’t met Hal Halpin yet, you should. He’s, first and foremost, a great guy, but secondly he’s also the founder and head honcho of the Entertainment Consumers Association, an entity that represents video gamers with the government and other entities. The ECA has been busy in the past few months educating and encouraging gamers to petition their politicians about Brown v. EMA, the lawsuit regarding a law in California that would’ve penalized retailers for selling violent video games to minors. We reached out to Hal on his thoughts on what is perhaps the most important ruling on electronic entertainment ever.
FleshEatingZipper: With the recent Supreme Court ruling that video games are a protected art form in much the same way The Divine Comedy or a film are, how do you believe this reflects on the industry both artistically and commercially?
Hal Halpin: I’ve read quite a few opinions, from journalists who I respect, state optimistically that this ruling ends the “are games art or not” debate. I’m not sure that the general public will interpret the decision that way, even if spoon fed to them. To my mind, there never has been a debate. A hundred years ago, there were likely debates over whether movies were art.
FEZ: While Alito and Roberts sided with the majority, their opinion left the door open for some interpretation: that somehow a law can be created to prohibit sales of gaming, something Leland Yee has just recently proposed. Are we going to go through this again?
HH: Well, I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that we won’t be in front of the U.S. Supreme Court again, but I can say with confidence that we will most certainly be battling substantially similar legislation going forward; Leland Yee has already promised that fact.
FEZ: While we don’t know what the future holds, the judges also stated that we should be wary of new technology in the future. Now that we’ve gone this far from movies to comic books to now video games, is there some undiscovered future where we will have to block this kind of material to minors?
HH: Ha, if I knew the answer to that, I’d be retired on an island somewhere! But seriously, new advances in disseminating and then digesting media will happen – just like the movies to games one that we just discussed – but I don’t see it happening in the short term, no.
FEZ: Politics aside, should this an issue for individual states/local jurisdictions or do you believe legislature is required at the federal level? If so, what would it be?
HH: The upside of the case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court was/is that it really should send a message to legislators and judges that the matter has been decided. With the door being left a crack open, as we discussed, it does give anti-games/gamer advocates and politicians some hope, but not a ton.
FEZ: As an entity, how is the ECA responding to these rulings? Is it further education about what the ruling means to people?
HH: ECA represented consumers in the case. So at this stage, yeah, it’s more about answering related questions from members of the association and of the media. It was such a crucially-important case in so many ways that law students will be studying it for some time, I’d imagine.
FEZ: Do you believe retailers should retain their informal policies of carding minors for M-rated video games, originally a response to these laws, or is there a place for it?
HH: I can’t be fully objective on this answer, as – prior to running the ECA – I was the President of the retail trade association, the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, now known as the EMA (the named party in the case). But I believe that retailers are doing the socially responsible thing and will continue to do so. Their carding policies and procedures put them head and shoulders above other forms of media. And the transition from having no policies to having terrific policies in place was the painful part – financially and operationally. Now that it’s done, there’s no reason to undo them and many good ones to keep them.
FEZ: Thanks so much for your time!